What should we do about our worsening teacher crisis?
In 2019, 11 per cent of teachers who are experiencing problems, felt suicidal.
With a deepening recruitment crisis, high-stakes accountability and schools working with limited funds, it does not take a genius to work out why our state schools (at least in England) are starting to buckle. Run by trained and accredited counsellor, throughout 2018-2019 Education Support managed 9,615 calls to its free and confidential emotional support helpline. This number of calls managed is the highest in its history, and 28.1% more than in 2017.
Key research findings
In terms of teacher mental health and wellbeing, I’ve taken a closer look at the Education Support Partnership’s state of the nation report, published in 2019. Education Support is the UK’s only charity providing mental health and wellbeing support services to all education staff and organisations. I share their website with everyone I meet in our schools.
- Stress levels have increased for a third consecutive year
- Workload remains the most important work-related factor determining wellbeing
- The wellbeing of teachers is lower than the general population
- Disclosing mental health issues requires improvement
- Support levels have improved, although are still not commonplace
- Staff retention and stress appear to be closely linked
Do happier teachers equate to improved pupil outcomes?
In 2013, I struggled to find much research to suggest that teacher wellbeing was a serious issue. Today, you can find the topic in abundance, with very clear links between teacher wellbeing and pupil outcomes. Education Support Partnership (ESP) writes, “It is time to address the current high levels of unproductive stress experienced by those working in education.” With all this research to suggest that happier teachers make for better outcomes for our young people, why have we yet to take any serious action?
The headline facts
I have written time and time again, teachers leave their schools because of the pressures associated with the school (and the job), as well as how the school is led. Take a moment to read these startling facts from the research:
- 72 per cent of all educational professionals described themselves as stressed – this is 84% for senior leaders
- 33% of teachers (68% of senior leaders) worked more than 51 hours a week on average
- 74% considered the inability to switch off to be the major factor to a negative work/life balance
- 34% have experienced a mental health issue in the past academic year
- 78% have experienced behavioural, psychological or physical symptoms due to their work
- 57% considered leaving the sector over the past two years
- 71% said workload was the main reason for considering leaving their jobs
- 51% of teachers attributed work symptoms to pupil behavioural issues
- 41% of senior leaders believed that having time off work due to mental health symptoms would have a negative impact on their pupils with 32% saying it would impact on team morale.
- 49% felt compelled to attend work when they were unwell (presenteeism)
- 69% said they did not have enough guidance about mental health and wellbeing at work
- 60% would not feel confident in disclosing unmanageable stress/ mental health issues to their employer
- Worryingly, 9% of teachers reported taking drugs to alleviate/solve their symptoms experienced at work! Six per cent of these were school leaders and 9% teachers with 8% working in other roles within education.
- 19% of teachers have been signed off work for more than six months due to medical symptoms.
- 11% of teachers who are experiencing psychological, physical or behavioural problems as a result of work, have felt suicidal. There were 561 callers to Education Support’s free helpline clinically assessed as being at risk of suicide. This is a 57% increase on the previous year.
Take a look at how the education sector is shaping up in 2019 compared to 2017 and 2018. The only aspect of school life which has improved (just), is that teachers are less likely to work over the weekend and if they do, they are spending fewer hours. When considering individual teachers, not the collective workforce, the mental health and wellbeing of education professionals and the symptoms experienced are far from improving.
In my life as a teacher and school leader, from the mental health issues listed, I have suffered from:
- Over-eating (at home)
- Under-eating (at work)
- and high blood pressure.
When considering those that want to leave the profession due to health, it is pleasing to report that the following aspects of school life are getting better:
- Seeking better work/life balance
- Unreasonable demands from managers
- Seeking higher pay
- Rapid pace of organisational change
- Encouragement to speak up when struggling
- Colleagues being more understanding and accommodating of each other’s needs and feelings
- The school has a mental health and wellbeing policy
There is also a fascinating regional comparison:
- In the North East of England, 60% of teachers considered leaving the education sector in the past two years due to pressures on their health and wellbeing – the highest than any other part of the U.K.
- Interestingly, Northern Ireland has the lowest, with 50%
- The highest reported ‘level of stress education staff feel from working’ is in the West Midlands with 70%
- Welsh teachers have the lowest reported levels of stress, at 60% when compared to all corners of the U.K.
- Educational reforms should promote trust and autonomy to improve self-esteem and wellbeing across the sector.
- Accountability systems need to continue to evolve in a way that builds teacher efficacy and development, as opposed to unproductive tension and anxiety.
- Overwork has become normalised. Healthy working practices need to become the new, celebrated norm.
- School and college leaders must be funded (and assisted) to shape supportive, relational workplaces.
- All senior leaders should have access to personal and peer support. Tackling the level of chronic stress reported among this group should be made a priority.
- Every member of staff should have access to professional and confidential emotional support to manage their mental health and wellbeing.
Download the report
Download the full wellbeing report from Education Support Partnership. Note, this report covers a total sample size of 3,019 education professionals and the survey was conducted during the period 25 June to 29 July 2019.
From the 150+ schools and colleges I have visited, I’ve captured their challenges and successes in, Just Great Teaching.